Days out - Chiang mai
Now that the floods up in the North of Thailand have subsided, some of you may be considering a short trip to area's such as Chiang Mai. Having a visitor from the UK staying with me who wished to see more of the 'real' Thailand I took her on a six day mini tour.
We took the overnight sleeper train from Hualampong Station, Bangkok, it really is simple to get there from Pattaya. A bus from the bus station on North Pattaya Road will whisk you to Ekamai bus station in Bangkok for a paltry 113Baht each, Taking the Skytrain from Ekamai Skytrain station, is only a two minute walk from the bus station, and for a fare of 20Baht will transport you to Asoke Station where upon alighting you can make your way to the MRT Underground to Hualampong train station, the fare being 26Baht. The underground walkway that takes you directly into the train station was closed to pedestrians but the train station is only across the road from the exit that was open.
We boarded the sleeper train which left on time at 18.10. Around 20.00hrs a very attractive female attendant began making up the bunk bed accommodation. My travelling companion preferring the upper bunk, not realising the lower bed had much more room, plus the benefit of being able to look out the window. The fare was 791Bt for the upper bunk and 881Bt for the lower, this was 2nd class and a double first class compartment could also be obtained for a still very reasonable fare of 1,253 Baht for the upper bunk, and 1,453 Bt. For the lower bunk.
Other very attentive attendants took care of ones culinary needs including taking orders for breakfast or coffee for the morning.
Due to the recent flooding the train was diverted and so the arrival time was a little later than published. I awoke at around 7am to find the train passing through areas of jungle vegetation , the train twisting and turning in the mountainous location, and could bee seen to be negotiating a continuous steep incline.
On arrival at Chiang Mai, passengers were being met by their tour guides or operators, and those travelling independently by a great number of Taxi and Tuk Tuk drivers vying for fares.
I had already booked our accommodation at the SK House (Pictured directly below) 2, Hotel, having stayed there on a previous occasion, the staff are really friendly and helpful, and at times can't resist playing a joke on guests, on our arrival, I tendered my Email confirmation of booking to be told that they didn't have a room, as others had not checked out as expected. How the reception staff kept straight faces I don't know, as I went through my routine of 'But you confirmed my booking'. Still with a straight face, the male receptionist indicated that we should follow him, taking us to a room, he opened it with a grin, as it was the accommodation I had booked, he burst into laughter when I chided him calling him a 'Bad man', for the joke!!.
We had a twin fan room, with shower, at 400Baht per night for the room, I've always found that with the colder climate in Chiang Mai, that a fan room was adequate and in fact found we could even turn the fan off during the night.
The hotel has a large area on the ground floor which serves as a dining area, but many guests also use their computers here as free Wi Fi is provided. For those not travelling with a laptop/notebook, there is a computer room where internet access is 30Baht an hour.
Ground floor also has a reasonable size swimming pool, and also in the foyer area excursions/treks/trips can be booked.
Behind the reception desk small secure storage boxes are provided free, but you need to have your own padlock. The hotels 'Comments' book is full of glowing recommendations. I'm sure there is cheaper or more expensive accommodation available in the area, but this is one hotel I would recommend.
On our second day we took a trip up to the Wat Pra Thart Doi Suthep Temple, situated high on the mountains above Chiang Mai the drive up and down was more like a twisting and turning drive through the Swiss Alps, on arrival I was told that there were a further 309 steps to climb to the Temple itself, I took their word for it, having lost count (and my breath) before half way. For the infirm or disabled there is an 'escalator' which will get you to the top. It was certainly worth the effort, as from the viewpoint the whole of Chiang Mai, including the airport could be seen.
On the third day we did the 'tourist' thing and went on a trip where we rode elephants, floated down river on bamboo rafts, had a ride in an Ox cart and visited the Orchid farm, arriving back at the hotel around 5pm. After a shower and a short rest, we were off to the Night Bazaar, only about a ten minute walk from the hotel. The Night Bazaar was big, but like most markets in Thailand the only difference was in the name of the location on the 'T' shirts, in this case 'Chiang Mai'. I must say though that I did consider the prices of souvenirs much higher than in Pattaya.
The fourth day I became the 'Tour Guide', on foot visiting many of the Temples within the walls of the old City, for those not wishing to walk, on a previous trip I had hired a Tuk Tuk from 10am to 4pm, and the driver took me round most of the Temples in the inner City, and some outside, we stopped off for lunch at a very reasonable 'local' establishment and the cost of driver and transport for the day was only 700Baht.
By 5pm having walked most of the day we were 'Templed out', and returned to the hotel. The previous evening at the Night Bazaar my companion had seen a handbag she liked. At the shop she was too shy to 'Haggle', we returned to the Night Bazaar and it was down to me to get the price down from 2,200Baht to 1100Baht!!, the shop keeper giving me odd looks, as though he thought I was buying it for myself!!.
The fifth day I hired a Baht Bus to take us to the hot springs outside Chiang Mai, here you can either dangle your legs in the hot spring water, or if you take your swim suit you can swim in the pool for a very modest charge, then after if you are feeling a little peckish you can buy some eggs in a small wicker basket, and hang them to cook in the hot spring water which is at 105 degrees Centigrade, there is even a 'guide' as to how long to leave them in, dependant on how you like your eggs!!. Taking in the Umbrella factory, the Silk Village, and two gem factories on the way back to the hotel, our little outing took over four hours and cost just 800Baht to hire the Baht bus and driver.
After a little respite we went off again to visit some Temples we had missed the previous day. In preparation for our return by day train the in the morning, my companion treated herself to an oil massage, hoping to ward off the effects of sitting on the train for an extended period.
Our taxi came as ordered the following morning at 7.30am, and we were at the train station for the return trip an hour before departure time, which left us time to have a coffee and buy some 'nibbles' before we boarded the train. The fare on the day train is a little less than the sleeper at 611Baht each. On the journey back before night fell, we saw many of the areas devastated by the flooding, also many relics of the colonial era, including railway cranes having been made by old engineering firms in Leeds UK, no doubt now long gone.
Arriving in Bangkok at around midnight, the first bus to Pattaya from Ekamai was 4am, so with a little hard bargaining with a Bangkok Taxi driver we arrived at a fare of 1100Baht to Pattaya, and after a quick drive back we were able to retire and hopefully sleep off any aches from the long rail trip just after 2am.
Details of train services to Chiang Mai can be obtained from the web site of www.thairailticket.com and bookings can be made on line by credit card, it is best to book the sleeper train well ahead as it gets booked up very quickly and sometimes for days ahead. You can book in person at Hualampong Train Station up to 60 days ahead.
The web site for SK House 11 is www.skhouse2.com Go online and check them out, their email for any information is email@example.com and they will respond by return.